Link: “Spirit of the Lone Eagle”: an audacious program for a manned Mars landing

Astronaut on Mars Jim McLane, a writer and 20-year veteran of NASA’s manned space programs, has written a thought-provoking and compelling essay on near-future manned missions to Mars. He suggests a novel approach, one I’d never considered: “One man, one way.”

On reading this phrase, I misinterpreted it to mean “let’s send an astronaut to Mars, watch him or her do some science there, and when the air or food runs out, the astronaut will die.” That isn’t McLane’s idea at all. Quite the opposite, he envisions an Earth-born Martian as a long-lived, iconic figure with the ability to inspire and unite the disparate peoples of the Earth. Further, he wants to send more one-way astronauts over time, to form a colony on Mars. He believes that, given the right astronauts, there will be no need or desire to return to Earth.

Risky? You bet. Even here, McLane manages to evoke an unexpected reaction: the acceptance that humankind, from prehistoric times to the recent past, have relied on individuals or small groups to take huge risks for huge benefits. Imagine early hominids choosing a scout to leave the tribe for months or years in search of the tribe’s next home. Or early seafarers, leaving their families in search of new lands or riches, or to prove that the Earth wasn’t flat, knowing they could be gone for years or forever. Consider the many test pilots who willingly gave their lives to advance the science of aeronautics, so that air travel, with all its world-altering ramifications, could be routine and safe today.

Regardless of your initial reaction based on my limited summary, Jim McLane’s essay is a must-read for anyone with an opinion about space exploration.

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